Lorraine and Tom Owen come face to face with Wally the Walrus, the boat-loving walrus who's been climbing aboard people's boats
Wally the Walrus made national news last week when he climbed aboard people’s boats in the Isles of Scilly, where we were anchored at the time.
Where is Wally the Walrus now?
The last we heard, Wally the Walrus had boarded the Star of Life ambulance boat in St Mary’s harbour, despite earlier being towed out to a secluded spot in a RIB he’d climbed aboard. It seems he’s curious about boats and people, but the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) reminded onlookers that walruses are protected by law and that members of the public should stay clear.
Our encounter with Wally
We’ve been visiting the Isles of Scilly for over 20 years now and had thought we’d seen all the flora and fauna the islands have to offer… puffins, shearwaters, seals, crabs, lobsters. So when someone called, “There’s a walrus in the anchorage!”, to say we were surprised was an understatement!
We were in Porthcressa, St Mary’s, onboard our motorboat Thea, with around 15 other boats in this glorious anchorage – a comfortable number in the steady offshore breeze. Once we had settled to our anchor that morning, we trooped ashore in the dinghy to meet up with friends for a bite of lunch at Carn Vean café, one of our favourite haunts.
A walrus trying to board dinghies
Returning in the afternoon, we picked up the dinghy off the beach and motored back to Thea, well replete, and looking forward to a doze in the sunshine. We were surprised to see the owner of a neighbouring boat hurrying towards us in his tender, with a somewhat concerned look on his face.
“There’s a walrus,” he said. “It’s trying to get onboard the dinghies. I suggest you get yours out of the water as soon as you can!”
The chap seemed perfectly rational and there was a general sense of unease emanating from the other boats. Boat owners were in their cockpits scanning the water, and most dinghies that could be hoisted onboard had been. Thinking it was better to be safe than sorry we hauled our tender up into our davits and looked across the water with interest.
We were not disappointed. ‘Wally’, approximately 10ft in length and weighing about 1,000kg, rocketed across the anchorage at a truly impressive speed, travelling from boat to boat. We could only speculate on the reasons behind his behaviour.
He appeared to want to mount the rubber dinghies – was he regarding them as a potential mate or looking for somewhere to rest? That part was understandable. What was more peculiar was his apparent desire to clamber up the sides and transoms of yachts, as though he wanted to get into the cockpit for his rest.
Wally the walrus – a formidable sight
Wally was using his flippers and tusks and was a formidable sight. Though streamlined and amazingly fast through the water, once clear of it he was massive. Everyone in the anchorage was fascinated but the general feeling was one of intense sympathy for this wild creature that we all wanted to help but had no means of doing so.
Although a couple of small tripper boats came in to have a look at the activity, they also kept a very respectful distance. Several boats suffered damage to guard rails and bathing platforms, and tears to their dinghies, which obviously was a concern. But the walrus was not aggressive and there was no hint that these were ‘attacks’.
For smaller singlehanded boats, though, it must have been very intimating as Wally lifted himself high out of the water and attempted to climb onboard. The boat owner who originally warned us of the problem was the one whose boat sustained the most damage, having had his dinghy wrecked twice and his outboard completely submerged.
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“The prospect of a rest in a comfy rib was just too tempting for Wally,” he told me. “In went the tusks for grip, and down went the tube, with two tears up to 200mm! Luckily the tears were above the waterline. As soon as Wally had gone, looking for a less deflated tender, I tied the opposite grab handles together to keep the rips above water and gingerly motored to the beach.”
Wally the walrus returns
A couple of hours later the boat owner had almost finished his repairs when he needed more PVC fabric from the boat to strengthen the somewhat challenging beach-side fix.
“I scanned the bay – Wally was nowhere in sight. I motored back, jumped onto our boat, got the tools and within two minutes went aft to get back into the tender,” he said. “As I rounded the side deck a huge exhalation of breath said it all – Wally was back!”
With a casual flip of his huge tail fins Wally was in the tender – or rather, about a quarter of Wally’s massive bulk was. Unfortunately, that was enough to sink the rear half of the tender, complete with a 10hp Mercury outboard!
“With his size, the tender must have seemed like a bath toy to Wally. He now seemed completely happy. At rest at last. I sat on our aft cabin roof looking at Wally – and everything that was now floating in, and out, of our tender. Just 4ft away a huge brown bewildered eye was looking side-on at me. I felt so sad for Wally. Needless to say in the middle of all this, I also phoned my insurers, Craftinsure, who I have to say so far have been brilliant and whose initial response was, ‘yes – your policy does actually cover you for walrus damage!’”
Wally the walrus circles the boats
For two days Wally circled the boats in the anchorage, including our boat Thea. Fortunately, we appeared to be just too high out of the water for him to get any purchase, and we kept our dinghy swung high in our davits, so for us it was just a wonderful experience to see him close alongside. Looking into his calm but quizzical eyes, we could easily have reached down and patted him, although, of course, we didn’t.
Seeing such a large wild creature at close quarters was not something we ever expected to do in our lifetime, and we could study his face and his body in remarkable detail. For those who suffered damage it must have seemed that the threat made life too difficult, and the anchorage slowly cleared.
Hopefully this truly splendid animal will start his long journey back home soon.
About the authors
The story of the build of Thea, Tom and Lorraine’s 30ft wooden motorboat, was featured in Practical Boat Owner in January 2018. Their book ‘Seawater and Sawdust’ is available on-line and in bookshops.
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